Editor's note: This story has been updated.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday appointed Dallas Independent School District Trustee Mike Morath as the state's next education commissioner, describing him as "a proven education reformer."
Morath, chairman of Morath Investments, has served on the Dallas school board since 2011. A vocal school-choice proponent, he pushed for a controversial — and, for now, scrapped — “home rule” policy that would have allowed the Dallas school district to escape state control.
He will succeed Michael Williams as head of the Texas Education Agency, which oversees the state's more than 1,200 school districts, including charters. Williams, appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry in 2012, is stepping down Jan. 1.
It is the second leadership post to which Abbott has appointed Morath in recent weeks, although the latest will trump the first. Last month, Abbott picked the apparently avid mountain climber to head a new legislative commission that will recommend changes to the state's method of student assessment and school accountability. Abbott will have to appoint someone else to head the 15-member Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which must make recommendations by Sept. 1.
“The State of Texas is exceptional, and our education system must be too,” Abbott said in a statement Monday. “A proven education reformer, Mike Morath will not accept the status quo in our schools. He is committed to innovative solutions that will empower Texas principals, teachers, and students to strive for the highest in education excellence. Mike Morath has led climbs up Mount Rainier and climbed the 20,305-foot Island Peak near Mount Everest. Now he will help Texas education reach new heights."
Abbott's statement called Morath “a change-agent at DISD who led reforms that helped propel Dallas public schools to achieve greater student and operational outcomes.”
Among them: a merit pay system for teachers, higher graduation rates and standardized test scores and better financials — including two bond rating upgrades.
Morath said in his own statement that he intends to bring “a focus on improving student outcomes” and to support teachers.
"I realize that no school system’s students can outperform their teachers, and supporting our teachers to improve teaching quality are essential in our public education system,” he said. "I look forward to advancing that quality, as well as student outcomes, to ensure Texas becomes the number one school system in the nation.”
Teacher groups were not as enthusiastic about Morath’s appointment.
It "sends another signal that Abbott is very interested in the agenda of the education reform and pro-privatization crowd,” the Association of Texas Professional Educators said Monday, citing Abbott's recent appointment of another reformer to the Pension Review Board, which teachers groups decried.
"We hope that Morath will be the type of commissioner who is receptive to educators’ voices in matters of policy and will support local control,” the association’s executive director, Gary Godsey, said in a statement.
But Morath won bipartisan praise from some elected officials Monday. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a Democrat who backed the controversial home-rule initiative, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party Republican, both cheered Abbott’s choice.
"I worked closely with Mike over the years to develop education reforms that have improved our schools and expanded school choice,” Patrick said, referencing his time chairing, and vice chairing, the Senate Education Committee when he was a state senator. "I look forward to continuing our work to make Texas schools the envy of the nation."
Before becoming a full-time investor, Morath owned a software company, Minute Menu Systems, that assisted child care providers in administering a federal food program for low-income children, according to his biography on the Dallas school district website.
Morath is a graduate of Garland High School and George Washington University.